Members of the new City Council started their term with a bang on Wednesday, Jan. 10, with several initiatives that departed sharply from the policies of Mayor Josh Cohn and his former ruling coalition.
The Council paused a plan to spend $100,000 to finish design plans to put artificial turf at Nursery Field; appointed Sara Goddard for a one-year term to replace Ben Stacks, who stepped down from the Council last month; and reversed a plan to charge new members of Rye Golf Club more than current members for the same kind of membership.
In addition, the Council voted 5-0, with newly appointed Deputy Mayor Julie Souza abstaining, to have City Manager Greg Usry return to the Council with an outline of the City’s top operational priorities for 2024, so residents will know what the Council plans to focus on.
Councilmembers Jamie Jensen and Keith Cunningham, who joined the Council on Jan. 1, along with Councilmembers Bill Henderson and Josh Nathan, have pledged to change how the City conducts its business. They said they aim to allow full and transparent discussion of community issues, including participation from the public. Nathan and Henderson had complained that Cohn and his bloc did not consult them when making key decisions, often surprising them with business on the Council agenda.
Cohn’s former four-person coalition, however, was reduced to two after the election and after one of his allies – Stacks – announced his resignation.
Over the previous several Council meetings, Cohn and his group had pushed through a series of resolutions on narrow votes that the new Council is now reconsidering.
Cohn’s group had voted to spend the $100,000 to finish plans to put artificial turf on Nursery Field, bringing to $390,000 the amount committed to developing the project. The previous Council also voted to put that project out to bid and to accept donations from a group or residents supporting the plan once a construction firm had been chosen.
Supporters of the plan want more field time for the City’s kids, while many residents and an array of environmental groups and historical societies are opposed.
The new Council voted 4-2 to instruct the city manager to pause, until Feb. 28, the preparation of any design and construction plans for synthetic turf at Nursery Field, execution of any contracts related to the project, or spend city money on the project.
That pause will allow the three new members of the Council to get up to speed on the project and have their questions answered, said Nathan, who proposed the pause.
Several members of the Council had said they did not want the mayor to push through the artificial turf project before the new Council had a chance to review the matter.
“I find this resolution to be unnecessary and unwelcome,” responded Cohn, who has supported the synthetic turf proposal.
Sara Goddard was approved as the seventh Council member by a vote of 4-0, with two abstentions. Her terms will run until Jan. 1, 2025. She replaces Stacks, who announced his resignation at the Council’s last meeting.
Goddard, who previously served on the Council for four years, produced the City’s Sustainability Plan and teaches sustainability leadership at Columbia University.
Goddard is “well-known and regarded, she cares deeply about Rye, and comes with an enormous amount of support,” said Councilmember Nathan, who put Goddard’s name forward.
On golf club fees, the new Council voted 4-2 to reverse the previous Council’s plan and instructed the City Manager to work with the Golf Club to come up with a new plan that charges new and renewing members the same amount within the same categories.
“We feel it’s a matter of simple fairness,” said Councilmember Henderson, who made the proposal.
The new plan, he said, must meet the club’s requirement to break even or have a surplus.